Cognitive resources are distributed among the entire auditory landscape in auditory scene analysis

Renee M. Symonds, Juin W. Zhou, Sally L. Cole, Kelin M. Brace, Elyse S. Sussman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Although attention has been shown to enhance neural representations of selected inputs, the fate of unselected background sounds is still debated. The goal of the current study was to understand how processing resources are distributed among attended and unattended sounds during auditory scene analysis. We used a three-stream paradigm with four acoustic features uniquely defining each sound stream (frequency, envelope shape, spatial location, tone quality). We manipulated task load by having participants perform a difficult auditory task and an easy movie-viewing task with the same set of sounds in separate conditions. The mismatch negativity (MMN) component of event-related brain potentials (ERPs) was measured to evaluate sound processing in both conditions. We found no effect of task demands on unattended sound processing: MMNs were elicited by unattended deviants during both low- and high-load task conditions. A key factor of this result was the use of unique tone feature combinations to distinguish each of the three sound streams, strengthening the segregation of streams. In the auditory task, the P3b component demonstrates a two-stage process of target evaluation. Thus, these results, in conjunction with results of previous studies, suggest that stimulus-driven factors that strengthen stream segregation can free up processing capacity for higher-level analyses. The results illustrate the interactive nature of top-down and stimulus-driven processes in stream formation, supporting a distributive theory of attention that balances the strength of the bottom-up input with perceptual goals in analyzing the auditory scene.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere13487
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2020


  • ERPs
  • P3b component
  • attention
  • auditory scene analysis
  • cognitive load
  • mismatch negativity (MMN)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Physiology (medical)
  • Physiology


Dive into the research topics of 'Cognitive resources are distributed among the entire auditory landscape in auditory scene analysis'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this